Posts from January, February, and March of 2007.

March 17, 2007... Dream Delight

What's that, Lassie?  There are rumors that Saturn games will be coming to the Nintendo Wii's Virtual Console service?  And one of the first games available will be NiGHTS?  Timmy can stay in that well for another hour... I've got to know more about this!

In all seriousness, this is fantastic news... if it's true, anyway.  I've never been able to properly emulate the Sega Saturn on anything short of a Cray supercomputer, and Saturn games are going to fill up the Wii's flash drive (all 512 megs of it!) pretty quickly.  Still, if Nintendo can wave its magic remote-shaped wand and bring a little of that Saturn magic to the Wii, I'm all for it.

PLAYSTATION HOME CHILDPROOFED: In response to the questionable sexcapades in Linden Labs' Second Life, Sony has taken several steps to make its own Playstation Home service less controversial... and lawsuit prone. First, all profanity will be censored when chatting with friends. Finally, no child-like avatars will be available to PS Home users. · · · LOOK MA, ONE HAND!: The upcoming Wii release Opoona (which sounds remarkably like a slang term for female genitalia) will be the first game on the system that uses only the sidecar controller for input. Can an RPG work with just one analog thumbstick and two buttons? The Japanese will find out this August. · · · TIGRS UPPERCUT!: Got a game you want to distribute, but you don't have the cash for an ESRB license? Well, now you've got an alternative. The TIGRS rating system lets you brand your creation with one of three different labels, ranging from family-friendly green to adult-only red. Sadly, there's no team of reviewers to ensure that the labels are accurate. · · ·

March 14, 2007... Turtle Comeback!  (TMNT on Xbox Live Arcade)

This morning, a little part of my childhood came back to life with the release of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles arcade game for Xbox Live Arcade.  Past attempts have been made to bring the frantic beat 'em up into homes, but they've been hobbled by system limitations (as was the case with the NES game, which was great... for an NES game) or licensing squabbles (one of the recent Xbox TMNT releases had a hidden translation of the game with the heart-pounding soundtrack taken out!  Arrgh!).

I'm happy to say that neither issues raise their ugly heads in the Turtles arcade game for the Xbox 360.  There are a few irritations, like the way the attract mode is squeezed into a tiny porthole in the title screen, and the way the introduction comes to an abrupt end the moment the words "Hang on, April!" escape the lips of Splinter, the turtles' sewer-dwelling sensai.  There's also word that a four player session is only an option with Xbox Live, but that's a good sight better than being stuck with a single friend in the NES game.

When you get past all that, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Arcade Game remains one of the best titles the long-running license has to offer.  The animation is still smooth and dynamic, with the Turtles putting their weight into every swing of their weapons, and members of the Foot Clan giggling as they light sticks of dynamite.  The soundtrack is still so infectious that you'll risk blowing out your speakers to listen to it at full volume.  Finally, the gameplay is still among the most satisfying and addictive you'll find in a late 1980's beat 'em up.  You'll reach a special kind of nirvana when you're fighting alongside three other rabble-rousing reptiles and the Foot Clan's soldiers are flying around the screen like debris in a hurricane.  Thanks to you, Konami, for making one of the best video games ever hatched from a cartoon, and thanks to you Ubisoft, for bringing it into the 21st century!

March 10, 2007... Is There an Ecko in Here?

Before I begin, I'd like to thank Doc Holiday from the Penny Arcade forums for taking the time to untangle the jumbled spaghetti code buried deep within the index page.  He informs me that the editor I'm using leaves a lot of unfinished business in the HTML, opening tags without ever shutting them.  With this in mind, it's not hard to understand why the site would look so ghastly in browsers like Safari and Konquerer, but the revisions Doc made should keep the site looking sharp no matter what you're using to read it!

All right, now onto the good stuff!  As you can see, this is a copy of the Atari game Mark Ecko's Getting Up.  As you can also see, it's got a four dollar price tag stuck to the front of the shrink wrap.  I couldn't believe it when I saw it.  The cashier at K-Mart couldn't believe it when she saw it either, but sure enough, it rang up for exactly the amount shown on the sticker.  If you were wondering just how poor Getting Up's sales were, that ought to answer your question!

I'd feel badly for Mark Ecko too, if he wasn't a spoiled twat who called all gamers drama queens.  I rented the game just days before picking it up at K-Mart (it was free with my rental of Crackdown for the Xbox 360) and it's actually quite stylish and entertaining.  The movement of your hip-hoppin' hero Trane feels a little mechanical, but the fighting's got heart and laying down graffiti in a video game has never felt so realistic (sorry, Jet Set Radio Future!).  I dunno, maybe my brain's been scrambled after playing that wretched 50 Cent game, but four dollars for a title of Getting Up's caliber is a much better deal than one of those throwaway Burger King games.

THE SPORE, THE ANGRIER: Nintendo fan site N-Europe reports that one of the developers of Electronic Arts' Spore isn't thrilled with the Nintendo Wii. Don't worry... it's not Will Wright! It's actually some guy named Chris Hecker, who opines that the Wii is "shit" and that Nintendo has no aspirations of making art; only video games. Geez Chris, pretentious much? · · · FOUR'S COMPANY: What do you get when you blend the whimsy of Loco Roco with the team-based puzzle solving of The Lost Vikings, then top it all off with a dash of Playstation 3 quality visuals? Why, LittleBigPlanet, of course! The game, featuring four colorful pipsqueaks in a world five sizes too large for them, will be released early next year. · · · COMMODORE COMEBACK?: Well, Yeah!ronimo sure hopes so! The current owner of the Commodore brand name is set to launch a line of computers optimized for gaming. Yeah!ronimo hasn't had a great track record in the past- their eVIC MP3 player was almost as popular in Europe as the black plague, minus the market penetration- but here's hoping they have more luck this time! · · ·

March 8, 2007... There's No Playstation Like Home

The man who said "Home is where the heart is" would have changed his tune in a hurry if he ever saw the Playstation Home service in action.  What was rumored as a merger of the Miis on the Nintendo Wii and the achievements in the Xbox 360 is in reality a virtual world where Playstation 3 owners around the globe can share their experiences.  Sounds great, right?  Sure, until you witness the soulless  presentation.  Rather than Nintendo's simple but charming cartoon artwork, every resident of Playstation Home is rendered for maximum realism... and minimum personality.  The service allows you to create a perfect replica of yourself, but do you really want your online friends to see you exactly as you are, with a five 'o clock shadow and a sagging spare tire?  Even in the cutting-edge, detail-obsessed 21st century, some things are best left to the imagination.

Playstation Home also suffers from the Google factor.  Five years ago, there were many online search engines, but none of them were especially good at their jobs, keeping the user from their results with a  cluttered page of irrelevant topics.  Then along came Google, which consisted of nothing more than a text window, five links, and a little grey search button.  The only thing Google did was offer search results... which coincidentially was exactly what users had wanted in the first place!  Fast-forward to 2007.  Google is the undisputed champion of online indexes, while those other guys... wait, are they even still around?

That's what Microsoft brings to the table with its achievement system.  While Playstation 3 owners will have to dig through their virtual house for trinkets representing their accomplishments, that information is available to Xbox 360 fans with the touch of a button.  Microsoft learned some important lessons when Google crushed its MSN search engine like a tin can back in 2002.  It finally understands that it's best to give their customers exactly what they want, when they want it, without letting white noise get in the way.  Judging from the extraneous interface of Playstation Home, Sony's going to have to take a few hard lumps of its own before it learns these lessons for itself.

March 4, 2007... The Web 2.0 Look.  Hey, All the Other Sites Are Doing It!

Another year, another new look for The Gameroom Blitz.  I have a funny feeling that this one will be sticking around for a while, though... it's simple yet elegant, without the rough edges present in many of the site's past designs.  It also makes better use of high screen resolutions, with native support for 1084x768 monitors.  Any resolutions higher than that will letterbox the screen with black vertical bars... and anything lower is probably going to look pretty awful.  Sorry, luddites!

If you notice any kinks in the new design, feel free to drop me a note on the forum.  I haven't tested this with Camino, or whatever browsers the cool Mac kids are using these days, but I understand that the Crazy Climber motif wasn't quite up to building code standards on computers running Apple or Unix operating systems.  Hopefully GRB '07 will be more Jobs and Torvalds compliant, but I won't know for sure until someone tells me!

Just a couple of gaming-related notes before I get back to polishing up the site.  After getting smacked around by the Nintendo DS for the past two years, it looks like the PSP will be taking Round 2 of the handheld wars a lot more seriously.  God of War, one of the Playstation's most popular first-party franchises, will hack and slash its way to Sony's potent portable by the end of the year.  There's no word on how a game that used nearly every button on the Dual Shock controller will be ported to the less accommodating PSP.  However, a simplified control scheme could actually do wonders for a series that in all honesty is a little less user-friendly than it should be.

On the Nintendo side of the fence, SNK's American president Ben Herman has some depressing news for Neo-Geo fans eagerly awaiting the arrival of the system's games on Nintendo's Virtual Console service.  Not only will there be no online support for these titles, but Herman claims that gamers won't see online ANYTHING for the Wii for at least another year.  If that weren't enough, the Neo-Geo titles that will make it to the Wii aren't likely to be the ones fans actually want.  The secret word from "Pee-Wii" Herman is that "There'd be a lot of money involved in releasing a version of a game that has limited or niche appeal."  In other words, don't be surprised if you excitedly leap out of bed and power on your system one sunny Monday morning, only to find a long-forgotten dud like Andro Dunos or Mutation Nation waiting for you there.

THERE IS NO "U" IN "MII": They were created by Nintendo, and with Nintendo they will remain! The bobble-headed Wii avatars known as "Miis" will remain exclusive to first-party releases, to the annoyance of Electronic Arts and other outside developers who were eager to incorporate them in their own video games. · · · HOMEWARD BOUND: Maybe Sony will be a little less stingy with their own avatars, set to be unleashed on the Playstation 3 in a couple of months. The Playstation Home service works like a bit like Animal Crossing, with players designing their own characters, then using the items won in official Playstation 3 games to spruce up their homes. · · · WII TO GO!: The hobbyists at have found a way to make online games recognize all the buttons on the Wii remote. This lets players use the remote as a game controller for any Flash or Javascript games that support it... a big step up from the ghetto mouse control in past Wii- enabled titles, like those offered on the Homestar Runner web site. · · ·

March 2, 2007... Total Immersion

After five years of fighting tooth and nail with Immersion Technologies, Sony has finally laid down its arms and come to an understanding with the company that brought the world force-feedback game controllers.  In the agreement, Immersion gets the $100 million dollars originally awarded to them by the United States courts... and in return, Sony gets the rumble technology that was conspicuously absent from their first run of Playstation 3 controllers. 

Let's forget for a minute that Sony told us rumble was a thing of the past, and that it would be impractical to include in the SIXAXIS with its (largely unnecessary) motion sensor.  This is an important step forward for a company which had considered its leadership of the video game industry to be an unalienable right, rather than a privilege that must be earned through fierce competition and customer satisfaction.  Instead of telling gamers what they want (or what they'll learn to live with), Sony is finally listening to its user base and addressing their concerns. 

It's starting to sink in, folks.  If this news comes with a contrite press release from Sony (an announcement that doesn't make the reader want to strangle Jack Tretton or Phil Harrison), there may be some hope left for the Playstation 3.  And if there isn't, hey, there's always the Xbox 360 and the Wii!

February 26, 2007... Not So Bulletproof After All, Eh?

It's been so long since I've written a review for the site that I've forgotten what it was like!  Anyway, here it is, an appropriately scathing commentary on one of the worst games of last year... or the year before that... or the year before that!  Heck, I dare say that 50 Cent: Bulletproof ranks near the top of the crappiest third-person shooters ever designed.  When you find yourself wishing you were playing Advent Rising instead, you know the game's got serious problems.

Before I go, I've been hearing rumors that Konami is planning to release the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles arcade game for Xbox Live Arcade.  They actually tried this once before, including an emulated version of the game with one of their more recent Turtles beat 'em ups... but it was badly butchered, replacing the driving score from the original with some trash from the FoxBox cartoon.  Hopefully they won't make the same mistake twice with this translation.  I'm also crossing my fingers for online play, because let's face it, it's just not as fun playing as a Ninja Turtle without at least one other hero in the half shell guarding your back!

February 23, 2007... The Case of the Missing Update

Uh oh... I think I lost this update.  Either it was really good and I should be kicking myself, or it was really embarrassing and I should be glad it's vanished.

THUMBS UP, SOLDIER!: Seems the stars of Mercenaries are happier as double agents. The sequel to Pandemic's military shooter will be released for not only the Playstation 3, but the Xbox 360, home computers, and even the aging Playstation 2 as well. Sadly, Nintendo fans won't get the chance to use their Wiimotes to fling grenades at those nasty North Koreans. · · · ICED CUBE: Time's up for Nintendo's last-gen game console. After six years, the GameCube is being put into permanent retirement so Nintendo can throw all its weight behind manufacturing the more successful Wii. With the GameCube now a thing of the past, maybe now consumers will have a shot at actually finding the Wii on store shelves! · · · ITCHY TRIGGER FINGER: Six years after its own cancellation, the Sega Dreamcast is still alive and kickin' with the Japanese release of Trigger Heart Excelia. Warashi's shooter will not be the venerable console's swan song... believe it or not, other titles are still planned for the Dreamcast, including Karous and a sequel to Trizeal. · · ·

February 18, 2007... Hot Coffee, Red Steel, and Ridge Racing

Good news, everybody!  Well, good news for ME, anyway.  A recreation center and coffee house just opened inside the residential hall at the local college.  Although I don't live on campus, I've still been able to put the center and its extensive collection of next-gen game systems to use.

That includes the Playstation 3, which might actually be a pretty good system if it weren't for that blood-curdling price tag.  Resistance: Fall of Man is, as countless reviewers have already mentioned, extremely impressive.  It's as good a first-person shooter as any I've played, with razor-sharp graphics that bridge the gap between science-fiction horror and mid-20th century military combat.  Ridge Racer 7 isn't so hot, but to its credit, it's no WORSE than its store-brand generic predecessor on the Xbox 360.

I've also taken the opportunity to catch up with those Xbox 360 and Wii games which I either can't afford or just have no interest in buying.  The less said about Gears of War, the better... I realize that the game has a fiercely loyal following, but after stumbling through the tutorial I can't imagine why.  The control couldn't be any more player-hostile if the designers glued poison-tipped tacks to the thumbsticks and buttons!

On the Wii side of things, there's Red Steel and Elebits.  In my less than humble opinion, Konami's lighthearted action title is the quintessential Wii game, making the most of the system's unique controller while bringing fresh ideas to an industry in dire need of them.  You're a junior exterminator, blasting brightly colored bugs with a stream of electricity that can also hold and throw objects.  The gameplay's got the same cumulative effect as Katamari Damacy... the more Elebits you catch, the more powerful your beam becomes, eventually giving you the strength to tear houses from their foundations and toss cars around like toys.  What could be more fun than that?

Definitely not Red Steel!  Everything you've heard about this game is true, as long as it's negative.  I'm not sure what offends me more about this first-person shooter from Ubisoft... is it the artificially flavored Japanese atmosphere?  The smeared, ugly wall textures and boxy weapons highlighted with garish gold trim?  The gimped control which makes something as simple as picking up a gun a labor even Hercules would dare not accept?  The cramped level design which gives you all the freedom of a Tiger handheld from the late 1980's?  Hey, why settle for just one?  I'm picking "all of the above."

February 18, 2007... I'm Itching for a Fight

After a disappointing experience with Capcom's Godhand, I was determined to find a 3D brawler as entertaining as the arcade favorites I so fondly remember from my youth.  Here's what my extensive research revealed...

FINAL FIGHT STREETWISE:  Sure, it's not fantastic by any stretch of the imagination, but if you've ever played Capcom 8's last "gem" Final Fight Revenge, you'll realize just how good you have it with this sequel.  You're Kyle Travers, brother of everybody's least favorite playable character from the original Final Fight.  When Cody is kidnapped by gang members, it's up to you to search the down and dirty streets of Metro City for clues to his location.  It's like Shenmue with more swearing, fewer sailors, and less appealing mini-games.  Also included in the package is a heinous conversion of the Final Fight arcade game that'll leave you scrambling for that copy of Capcom Classic Collection in the closet.

THE WARRIORS:  Feeling nostalgic for the 1970's?  Then you're really, really old and probably shouldn't be playing video games.  But if the onset of wrinkles and liver spots doesn't deter you from indulging in some gaming goodness, you'll want to set a copy of The Warriors next to your favorite lava lamp.  The Warriors has such a deep fighting system that you'll wonder why Rockstar threw in all the extraneous nonsense.  You'll be sneaking past cops and stealing car radios as often as you'll be sinking your fists in the faces of rival gang members; thugs dressed as everything from mimes to baseball stars.  Fortunately, there's an option to get right to the fighting, and you'll be amazed by all you can do.  Why just punch and kick when you can drag that goon's face across a chain link fence?

URBAN REIGN:  Now that's more like it!  Namco's Tekken spin-off has all the satisfying action of The Warriors without all the distractions.  There are no mission objectives standing between you and your opponents, so you'll have all the time in the world to experiment with a brilliant fighting system packed with attacks.  Like True Crime: Streets of L.A., you can target specific areas of your opponents' bodies.  However, this has a more profound effect on the gameplay in Urban Reign... if you soften up the legs of your foe, they'll drop like a ton of bricks the next time you land a blow there.  Slick, easily performed counters and some of the most astonishing attacks you've seen outside a wrestling ring make Urban Reign the most exciting beat 'em up released in the past ten years.

February 14, 2007... Sowing the SEEDS of Love 

I've never been a huge fan of Valentine's Day, but if they're all going to bring us this many juicy gaming announcements, I might have to view the holiday in a more flattering light.  First up is news of an Xbox Live Arcade conversion of Ikaruga, Treasure's parting gift to the Dreamcast.  It's no Radiant Silvergun (then again, what is?), but it's still a big step up from the crusty arcade games available on the online service.

Speaking of online features, the Nintendo Wii's got a new channel called Everybody Votes.  It's like those online polls you see on most internet message boards, except Nintendo chooses the daily topic, and there are only two available options.  Yeah, I don't get it either.  I wonder what Nintendo has up its sleeve for next week... maybe a Magic 8-Ball where you shake the Wiimote like mad until a little purple cube floats to the top of your television set, dispensing cryptic advice.  Hey, that's actually a pretty cool idea... who do I talk to so I can get my cut of the royalties?

What next?  Well, there's news from Kotaku that the founders of Clover have taken up root elsewhere, starting the development team SEEDS.  There's no news on what their premiere game will be like, but evidently they'll have a lot of money to invest in their first project, courtesy of an unknown but very wealthy benefactor.  With talented designers like SEEDS' Shinji Mikami and Game Republic's Yoshiki Okamoto abandoning Capcom in droves, I'm starting to wonder if there will be anything left of the company in another five years!

Valentine's Day has one more gift for gamers, and it ain't flowers or candy!  Nope, this present comes in the form of the long-awaited, continually-delayed Chulip.  This kiss-centric adventure has been finished and ready for launch for over three years, but developer Natsume kept getting cold feet about its release.  Did Sony halt Chulip's debut because of its lackluster graphics (no doubt inspired by Nintendo's own Animal Crossing), or was Natsume worried that a game starring a serial kisser would be considered too creepy for a prudish Western audience? 

Whatever may be the case, it seems they've finally worked through those issues and are ready to speak the language of love.  Expect Chulip at your local Gamestop or EB Games tomorrow afternoon... unless the damn thing gets delayed again at the last minute.

EDIT:  And wouldn't you know it, it WAS!  Oh good grief.  All right, in that case, expect the game at your local Gamestop next Tuesday afternoon.  Just don't hold your breath for it.

NOT JUST LIP SERVICE: After years of delays, Natsume's Chulip will at long last be released for the Playstation 2. This wacky quest to kiss the entire population of a small town will make its debut on Wednesday, just in time for Valentine's Day! · · · CHIMPS AHOY!: Further down the pike is Hail to the Chimp, an Xbox 360 game developed by the mind behind the original Halo and the considerably less appreciated Stubbs the Zombie. Not much is known about the title at this point, although the promotional art suggests cartoony graphics. · · · WELCOME TO THE 4TH GRADE: First they went the egotistical route, naming their development house Gathering of Developers (GOD). Now Mike Wilson and Harry Miller are taking a puerile turn with the title of their next studio, GameCock. Hopefully their software will be better than that name... · · ·

February 12, 2007... Factor Five and Its High-Def Jive

There's been a lot of talk about display resolutions lately, especially from feisty German development team Factor 5.  In a recent interview with Game Informer, Factor 5 president Julian Eggebrecht reveals the reason his company left Nintendo and refused to work with Microsoft.  The last straw (actually, the only straw) for Julian was that neither company was willing to embrace 1080p, that holy grail of resolutions. 

Of course, there are perfectly logical reasons for Microsoft and Nintendo's hesitation... high-definition televisions are still in their infancy, and pushing over two million pixels sixty times a second is a tall order for even the most powerful game consoles.  Nevertheless, Factor 5 is convinced that 1080p is the way to go, and they're dead set on taking everyone else along for the ride... even if they have to drag them kicking and screaming.

Some gamers feel that Factor 5 is on the right track.  They too feel that 1080p is the defining characteristic of a next-generation game console, and that outstanding graphics are impossible to achieve without it.  As a recent owner of a high-definition television set, I have to wonder if these individuals can honestly tell the difference between 1080p and lesser resolutions, or if they're just in love with another trendy buzzword from the industry that brought us blast processing and bump-mapping.  After being dazzled by The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion with a "humble" 1080i component connection, I suspect the latter applies.

I'm also not entirely convinced that game developers have pushed previous HD resolutions past their limits... yes, even the 480p which has made the Nintendo Wii a laughingstock among tech snobs.  There are still critical areas in basic visual presentation that the video game industry has long ignored; things that could and should be improved even on older consoles.  Even in high-budget titles by Electronic Arts and other industry titans, the animation is so stiff and lifeless that if you squint, you can see the strings holding the characters in place.  How is 1080p going to improve the look of games that seem like they were executive produced by Jim Henson?  Not a bit.

In addition to addressing these nagging flaws, developers need to be encouraged to stray from the well-worn path of photo-realism and experiment with new, dynamic art styles.  Okami's clever mimicry of medievel Japanese paintings was a great start, but you can't finish a thousand mile journey with a single step.  When designers can finally express themselves through the artwork in their games... when cel-shaded characters become indistinguishable from their hand-drawn counterparts... when every release is a unique and memorable visual experience, then and only then will it be time for the industry to step up to 1080p.

February 8, 2007... An Offer You Can't Refuse (but a game system you can)

Looking for an easy six hundred dollars?  Well, Sony's got a deal for you!  Just listen to this quote from SCEA president Jack Tretton, taken from the latest issue of Electronic Gaming Monthly...

"If you can find a PS3 anywhere in North America that's been on shelves for more than five minutes, I'll give you 1,200 bucks for it."

It's right here in black and white (and yellow), folks!  All you need to do is get solid evidence of the stacks and stacks of Playstation 3s currently in stores, then send 'ol Jack one of them.  It's money in the bank, baby!

February 4, 2007... Time Pilot, How High Can You Fly?

Whoo, Konami's been busy!  They're cranking out over a dozen games, and thankfully, none of them have the words "Metal" or "Gear" in the title.  There's a good mixture of the unexpected and familiar in the release schedule... along with the usual pile of Dance Dance Revolution games, there's a collection of arcade favorites for the Nintendo DS and another oddball Wii title from the makers of Elebits.

The most surprising announcement was Time Ace for the Nintendo DS.  It took 'em twenty years, but Konami's finally making a sequel to one of its earliest arcade hits.  Information about the game is scarce at the moment, but what's known is that it will feature eighteen stages, with the player bringing down aircraft from eight distinct time periods.  Time Ace will also be in 3D, so it's probably safe to expect dogfights like the ones in Crimson Skies, or rail-based gameplay similar to Nintendo's Starfox series.

One last thing before I go.  It sounds like the Dan Hibiki of attorneys might not be practicing law for long, if the Florida Bar Association has their way.  They've disciplined him in the past, but since he's never gotten the message, it's likely that the bar will deal with him more harshly to drive their point home.  It's a hollow victory, since the mainstream media's spotlight has already shifted from Jackie T to the next freak of the week, but I'll take what I can get!

VICE, VICE, BABY?: Rumors abound that the PSP game Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories will be ported to the Playstation 2. Rockstar has denied this, but the ESRB and Sony both seem convinced that it will happen, if their respective web sites are any indication. · · · CLASH OF THE TITANS: Thought it was embarassing when Sony used a picture of Project Gotham Racing 3 to promote Gran Turismo HD? Well, you ain't seen nothin' yet! Advertisements for the Playstation 3 are set to appear in an upcoming soccer game developed for its bitter rival, the Xbox 360. · · · XBOX 360 HITS IT BIG: Any Xbox 360 owner can tell you that the system's wimpy 64M memory cards aren't large enough to store much of anything. That's why Microsoft is releasing a super-sized 512M card. No news on a high-capacity hard drive to go along with it, but it'd be a smart idea! · · ·

January 31, 2007... Now THAT'S Progressive!

Unlike some finicky gamers, I don't demand eye-popping, cutting-edge, high-definition, hyphen-abusing graphics from all of my software.  However, I do want to make the games in my collection look as good as they can be, which is why I'm glad I bought a component cable for my Nintendo Wii.  It not only vastly improves the look of native games like Wii Sports, but brings many of my dusty old GameCube titles back to life!

You wouldn't believe how many of these last-gen releases support progressive scan!  Nearly every one of the games I tested, from Soul Calibur II to Alien Hominid, took full advantage of the component cable's ability to produce nearly pixel-perfect graphics.  It was a thrill to come back to True Crime: Streets of L.A. after a six month long absence... and as it turns out, it's even more satisfying to blow away thugs and muggers in glorious high-resolution!

In other "personal victory" news, I'm finally starting to get the hang of the Wii interface and controller.  I really dig the weather and news channels, and I'm getting better at the games in Wii Sports.  Thanks to a little practice, Bowling and Golf now feel a lot more like their real-life counterparts.  To top it all off, I whipped up a Mii who looks so much like me it's scary!  Either that or he's so scary he looks like me.  I haven't decided which.

WII WAR I: Here's one Wii accessory that Nintendo could do without... a mod chip that lets the system play copied games. Originally revealed (albeit with some skepticism) by the gaming blog Joystiq, the chip is now being offered on the grey market for fifty dollars. Gamers looking to beat the Wii's region protection will be frustrated to discover that the chip does nothing to address it. · · · ATTORNEY VS. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Things are tough all over for a certain anti- gaming lawyer in Florida. The bill he helped write for Utah is being challenged by Mark Shurtleff, the state's Attorney General. Shurtleff believes the bill is frighteningly draconian, an opinion no doubt shared by gamers who would become felons if their M-rated gaming sessions were interrupted by kids. · · · THE MAGIC TOUCH: Wired contributing editor Chris Kohler reports that Midway is bringing the Touchmaster series of bar games to the Nintendo DS. Twenty- three games will be included in the cartridge, ranging from video poker to a trivia contest with 20,000 questions! The only thing missing from the collection is the bowl of peanuts! · · ·

January 28, 2007... Nintendo Wii:  News and Weather on the Hour

The irony of the Nintendo Wii is that I find myself doing everything BUT playing games on it.  Wii Sports quickly lost its appeal and Zelda: Twilight Princess is too blurry to play with a composite video connection, but the system's news and weather channels keep me coming back on a daily basis. 

I was skeptical about these features at first, but it's clear now that Nintendo knew exactly what it was doing when it included them in the Wii.  It's thrilling to literally scour the globe for information, even if it's data you don't really need.  Is it important to know the current temperature in Athens, or the latest headlines in Manila?  Not at all, but as long as that news is at your fingertips, why not take advantage of it?

Speaking of news, here's the latest report from special Pac-Land correspondent Josh Lesnick...

VIVA LA REVOLUCION!: Great news for fans of Just Cause! Last year's Eidos release will receive a sequel, with its Latin hero liberating another country in picturesque Central America. Hopefully he'll also free players from the clutches of the clumsy control scheme that kept the first game from true greatness. · · · POPE-A-DOPE: He's one to talk! Former Hitler Youth member and current Catholic pope Benedict XVI put the hurt on violent video games, calling them "repulsive" and a "perversion." Bleech, this New Pope leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I wish they'd bring back Pope Classic... he was a lot more refreshing! · · · OUT TO LAUNCH: It's official... The Playstation 3 will be released in Europe on March 23rd. This ends speculation that Europeans will have to wait even longer to get their hands on the next-gen console. On the down side, only the more expensive 60G model will be available in the spring. There's no news on a specific launch date for the 20G PS3. · · ·

January 24, 2007... Hey, It's My Brother's Birthday! (also, brief game reviews)

Here's another batch of micro-reviews to hold you over until the next major GRB update...

ADVENT RISING:  This high-budget Majesco release got a lot of grief from the mainstream press... and indeed, it deserved some of that criticism.  The frame rate dips faster than George W. Bush's approval ratings during intense moments, and the gameplay borrows heavily from that king of sci-fi shooters on the Xbox, Halo 2.  Fortunately, there's an engrossing storyline to carry you through those rough moments, as well as generous checkpoints and an automatic save function that keep the frustration to a minimum during those times when you're up to your elbows in bloodthirsty aliens.  They just keep comin' and comin'!

NEED FOR SPEED CARBON:  I'm going to split this review evenly between the Xbox 360 and Nintendo DS versions of the latest Need for Speed.  It's no big surprise that the Xbox 360 release is the better of the two games, but what blew my mind is that the Nintendo DS serves up some sweet night racing action too.  Rather than chimping their rides like they did with the DS ports of Burnout Legends and Need For Speed: Most Wanted, Electronic Arts put a lot of effort into this conversion.  Even with its sleek graphics, licensed soundtrack, and tight control, Carbon on the DS lags far behind its Xbox 360 counterpart.  I was blown away by the online demo... it's everything I loved about Need for Speed Underground 2, with five times the visual splendor and none of the disc-snapping frustration!

A BARD'S TALE:  I've said it once (in a decade-old review of the Sega Saturn dud Shining Wisdom) and I'll say it again... if you're going to make fun of lackluster RPGs, you'd better make sure your own game doesn't fall into that category!  In A Bard's Tale, you play a man of questionable morals and sour disposition, whose sole joy in life is to mock the tired conventions of traditional adventure games.  He treats demanding non-player characters with the rudeness they deserve!  He skips cut scenes with a gruff, dismissive "Heard it!"  He... runs around slaying hundreds of monsters and springing open treasure chests from an overhead viewpoint.  Oh crap, the game's become the very thing it was trying to mock!

HEAVY WEAPON:  Take Moon Patrol, then take out the craters and most of the challenge, and you've got PopCap's Heavy Weapon.  Sure, it looks fantastic, but when you can beat the first three stages with your eyes closed (and that's honestly not much of an exaggeration), what's the point?  Similarly, the seemingly overwhelming onscreen pyrotechnics aren't much of a threat when you can gun down all those stray bombs with a sweep of your cannon, or a tap of the nuke button.  Oh well... Heavy Weapon might be a letdown, but at least it's comforting to know that the announcer from Killer Instinct is still getting work!

January 20, 2007... Brief Reviews, Just Cause I Can

Time to play a little catch-up!  Here's what I've been playing in the last week...

THE GRIM ADVENTURES OF BILLY AND MANDY:  On his blog, Maxwell Atoms stated that he was proud to have played a part in the development of the video game based on his Cartoon Network television series.  The twisted touch that Max brings to every episode of the show is the most important ingredient in this otherwise ordinary Power Stone clone.  You just can't find a game more faithful to its source material than this one... the kooky cast of characters taunt and bicker with each other as they battle, and there's even the disembodied voice of Weird Al Yankovic reminding players that they "need ham badly."  There are serious balance issues judging from what little I played... Grim cleans up the competition with his scythe, while the Steve Urkel-esque Irwin lags far behind in both speed and power.  However, even the dated graphics (it honestly doesn't look any better than the near decade old Power Stone) can't stop me from considering a purchase... Billy and Mandy is one of those rare games that can transcend its shortcomings based on its charm and the strength of its license alone.

SNEAK KING AND POCKETBIKE RACER:  It's amazing what you'll put up with for just four dollars.  As its title suggests, Sneak King is a stealth action title, placing it squarely into my all-time least favorite genre of games.  And as you may have already gathered from the name, Pocketbike Racer is yet another in a long procession of Mario Kart clones, following close behind licensed blunders like Shrek Speedway and (shudder) Crazy Frog Racer.  Still, when you're offered a next-gen game for less than five bucks, how can you possibly resist?  In the case of Pocketbike Racer, you'll want to try... this is by a wide margin the worst racing game on the Xbox 360, bringing back nightmarish memories of South Park Racing with its convoluted tracks and the most bugs this side of the film Creepshow.  Luckily, Sneak King will make you forget all about its retarded cousin, and will even distract you from the better games in your collection with stealth action that's refreshingly laid back and relaxing.  If you're spotted, you won't automatically lose the mission or be swarmed by angry soldiers... your point multiplier simply drops back to one as the burger-flipping baron shrugs his shoulders and attempts another fast-food delivery.  Now THAT'S what I call having it my way!

JUST CAUSE:  Man, oh man... I so want to love this game.  Just Cause is the first Grand Theft Auto derivitive since the original True Crime that dares to inject some excitement into the flabby thighs of the increasingly dull sandbox genre.  You're a tech-savvy guerrilla fighter in Central America; the Latin love child of James Bond and Che Guevera.  It's up to you to lead your people to freedom, gunning down corrupt cops, taking the wheel of top-secret vehicles, and picking off military leaders along the way.  The action pushes you to your limits and the scenery is beautiful beyond description (parrots and palm trees and ponds, oh my!), but there's just one thing missing... intuitive control.  There's an action assigned to every button, and some keys swap functions when you hop into a helicopter or a jeep, making it frustratingly easy to fumble in the middle of a tough mission and giving you just cause for throwing your wireless controller into the nearest wall.

ZELDA: TWILIGHT PRINCESS:  Last but not least, there's Twilight Princess.  Other critics will warn you that this one starts off slowly, and they're totally right... you'll spend nearly an hour fishing and herding goats before you wrap your hands around a sword and battle your first Moblin.  By the time you get that far, you'll wonder why you bought a whole new system for a game that clearly doesn't need it.  Twilight Princess has sharply rendered characters but decidedly substandard backgrounds, and the Wii's remote controller doesn't bring anything new to the table aside from unnecessary confusion.  Sure, pointing a slingshot is a little easier with the Wiimote, but fighting and adjusting the camera- which I can guarantee you'll do a lot more often- is more awkward than simply tapping a button or tilting a camera stick.  Twilight Princess lives up to the pedigree of past 3D Zelda games, but with a GameCube version readily available (and almost exactly the same), there's no logical reason to drop an extra two hundred and fifty dollars on a Wii.  Wait for a true exclusive that'll make you proud of the purchase.

SO LONG, AND THANKS FOR ALL THE HEDGEHOGS: After years of limping through the console wars, it seems the Dreamcast may finally have reached the end of its long but tragic life. Kotaku reports that production of the Dreamcast's proprietary GD-ROM disc has come to a halt, preventing the release of future officially licensed games. It's been a fun eight years, Dreamcast. · · · SLOW DOWN, TAKE IT EASY: Oblivion producer Todd Howard claims in a recent issue of Electronic Gaming Monthly that porting the popular RPG to the Playstation 3 was made more difficult by the system's Blu-Ray disc drive. Howard states that the drive's sluggishness forced the design team to print key data on the disc multiple times, speeding up access. · · · NEVER SAY NEVERSOFT: Activision is keeping it in the family! Now that Guitar Hero developer Harmonix is a division of Viacom (along with the International Justice League of Super Acquaintances), Activision is saving money on the development of the next Guitar Hero game by having its own subsidiary, Neversoft, create it. · · ·

January 17, 2007... How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love High-Def

In 2004, I bought a Sanyo television at a pawn shop.  It was larger than my last set, with ports which brought out the color and detail in my favorite video games.  Although I was happy with my purchase, I wasn't entirely satisfied.  I knew that I could do even better, and would probably be forced to by the end of the decade.  When the time came, I vowed that my next television would be in glorious high-definition!

Two months ago, that time came.  The Sanyo fizzled out on me, the victim of a broken vertical deflector.  It took a while before I could afford to replace the set, but once that money came, I went all out, picking up the best television money can buy.  Well, as much money as I had, anyway!  The Sanyo, all one hundred pounds of it, went out the door, replaced by a 32" flatscreen LCD TV with nearly every video port you could imagine.

One of those ports was put to the test shortly after setting up my Olevia.  I took the woefully underused VGA cable I purchased for my Xbox 360 last summer and plugged it into the back of the set.  I crossed my fingers, hoping for the best... and boy did I ever get it!  The already stunning Oblivion looked even more gorgeous in high-definition, with every lapping wave of water, every stray blade of grass, and every stone cast to the side of the road looking almost real enough to touch.

The other video inputs yielded less spectacular results.  I was satisfied with the Wii's composite cables back when I was playing Wii Sports, but the more ornate detail of Zelda: Twilight Princess demands better.  Too bad finding a component cable for the Wii is almost as tough as tracking down the system itself!  Next, there's S-Video... although still noticably blurry, it's good enough to get the job done for the Playstation 2 and Dreamcast. 

You definitely don't want to go any lower than that on a high-def set, though.  If you're planning on scratching that old-school gaming itch, you're better off getting it through emulators or classic game collections.  Most early game consoles only offer RF output, and few things look worse than a lowly RF connection on a high-def TV!

All right, enough HD snobbery out of me.  Next time, I'll talk about The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess... I just started playing it, but once I dig a little deeper, I'll be able to offer a more thorough analysis than "You herd goats."  Stay tuned, folks!

January 15, 2007... Early Impressions of the Nintendo Wii

It's an exciting time to be a Nintendo fan. The company which once ruled the video game industry fell on hard times in the past decade thanks to missteps like the Virtual Boy and Nintendo 64. Throughout much of the 2000's, the once mighty console manufacturer became the whipping boy for a new generation of gamers, which dismissed it as "kiddie" and out of touch. Now, after what seems like a lifetime of scorn, Nintendo is finally gaining back its lost relevance with hardware that injects new ideas into an industry which has become complacent and stubbornly resistant to change.

As a long-time fan of the company (and a vocal critic of its competitors), I would very much like to see Nintendo beat the odds and reclaim its throne as the world's most popular and influential game developer.  Unfortunately, I'm more in love with the thought of Nintendo making this miracle comeback than I am the system they're using to achieve those means.

Yes, that's right... I'm not impressed with the Nintendo Wii.  Not just yet, anyway.  The irony is that it was a lot more fun to hunt down the incredibly elusive system than it was to actually PLAY it.  I wouldn't have gotten a Wii at all had it not been for the efforts of a kindly GameStop clerk, who had a unit tucked in the dark recesses of the store's mysterious merchandise closet.  He told me to come in early the next morning to pick it up.  With every other store picked clean of consoles, I eagerly complied, and the next afternoon, a Wii was perched proudly in the middle of my entertainment system, where a GameCube once had been.

Before I fired up the included game, Wii Sports, I decided to play around with the system's interface.  The first move I made was switching on the built-in wireless receiver.  It was a move I would quickly regret.  The system asked for a firmware update... not such a big deal, since this kind of thing usually takes just a couple of minutes, right?  On another system, sure, but the Wii dragged the process out to over an hour, only to demand another update immediately afterward.  In a hobby where first impressions are killers, this was a shotgun to the face!

Two hours later, the Wii has finally had its fill of updates (heaven knows I've gotten sick of them).  I took this opportunity to become familiar with the system's BIOS.  Unlike the colorful user interface of the Xbox 360, or the dark yet stylish GUI of the Playstation 3, the Wii's operating system is blindingly bright, with a plain white background holding a neatly arranged cluster of rectangular icons.  Selecting one of these onscreen options is as simple as aiming at it with the remote and pressing the A button... but enduring the background music is considerably more difficult.

Some of the features offered on the Wii include a web browser based on Opera, a picture slide show, and perhaps most intriguingly, a weather network that allows you to check out a five day forecast for both your hometown and anywhere else you could imagine.  It's information you could just as easily find on the Internet, but only the Wii lets you grab the edge of a virtual globe and give it a good, hard spin!

The web browser isn't nearly as endearing, with a difficult to use interface and a dearth of available options.  There's no apparent way to adjust the size of the text without resizing the entire page.  If you choose to zoom in on the page you're visiting, you'll miss a lot of onscreen detail, but if you leave it at the standard size, much of the text is reduced to a blurry, unreadable mess (especially if you're stuck with the composite cables packed with the Wii).  If that weren't enough, you also have to put up with the dreadfully slow access times that make downloading updates and other software almost unbearable.

Finally, there's the slide show.  It's not as impressive as the photo album offered by the Playstation 3, where a series of life-like Polaroid pictures are dropped one by one onto a scrapbook marked with handwritten dates.  Nevertheless, the presentation of each picture is effective, in a cheesy mid-80's sitcom kind of way.  You get a lot of camera pans of every snapshot, coupled with heartstring-tugging music which you can thankfully swap out for the MP3s copied to your SD card.

Speaking of which, there's no Wii channel devoted exclusively to music, and you can't pop in your favorite music CDs... a glaring oversight when you consider that nearly every other home console from the past decade had these capabilities.  You know there's a problem when your latest system's multimedia functions are lagging behind even the lowly 3DO!

However, if it's games you've come for... well, the Wii doesn't seem to offer much in this department either, if Wii Sports is any indication.  It quickly becomes obvious why the game was included with the system, because there's just not enough meat on its bones to justify a stand-alone purchase.

It's not just that the games are simplistic... the control never feels as natural as advertised.  Maybe playing twenty years of games with a joystick has trained me to be resistant to other forms of input, but nevertheless, I can't help but think that something's not quite right here.  In Bowling, I feel like I'm mimicing the movements of the onscreen character, rather than hurling a ball at a crowd of pins.  When I step outside that field of movement, I'm given an error message and dragged behind the red line to do it all over again.  Baseball and Tennis are even worse, leaving me frantically flailing at a ball I can never strike.

I'm going to reserve my final judgment on the Wii until after I play Zelda: Twilight Princess.  It's in my collection right now, but I'm saving it for later... I still haven't finished the very similar Okami, and I don't want to switch games in midstream and risk forgetting about it.  However, when I do finally fire up Twilight Princess, it had better blow my frickin' mind... my future opinion of the Nintendo Wii depends on it!

PAPA'S GOT A BRAND NEW BOX: It's a bittersweet victory for Xbox 360 owners, as the system's two greatest faults will finally be addressed... in the next model. The new Xbox 360 includes both an HDMI port for a crystal clear picture, and a spacious 120G hard drive. There's no news on the new unit's price or release date. · · · FISHWRAP FILETS GAMEBOY: England's most disreputable tabloid, The Sun, blamed Nintendo's GameBoy for the death of a child who attempted to charge the system while soaking wet. You can't blame the seven year old for his mistake, but you would expect better from a newspaper that's been in publication for decades. · · · HOLD ON A SECOND: The trendy online game Second Life may not be so popular after all. The user base has been grossly inflated by Second Life developers Linden Labs, which counted the 2.3 million avatars created for the game. In reality, only a quarter of a million people are actually playing the game at any one time. · · ·

January 6, 2007... Little Robot, Big Review

Crazy people walkin' 'round with blood in their eyes, and all I wanna do is... put Playstation games on my PSP!  It's even more addictive now that there's a program which shrinks the typically gigantic Playstation ISO files down to a more reasonable size.  A one gigabyte memory stick that once had barely enough room for two games is now capable of carrying four or five, without the hassle of lugging around a stack of CDs.  Oh, and did I mention that many Playstation classics run just as well on the PSP as they had Sony's first game system?  Well, if I did already, it's worth mentioning again!

When I'm not reliving fond memories of the late 1990's on my PSP, I'm playing Chibi-Robo for the GameCube.  I've been interested in this one since I played the demo at GameStop last fall... just not fifty dollars interested!  However, after the price dropped to a miserly fifteen dollars, I just couldn't resist the purchase.  Five solid hours with Chibi-Robo has made me very glad indeed that I waited for a price drop.  There's certainly nothing wrong with the game, but if you're expecting action-packed platforming action... well, you're not going to get any of it here!   

Chibi-Robo is as laid back as a dead fly, playing like a more tightly focused Animal Crossing.  Instead of doing chores simply to pass the time, you'll pick up scraps of paper and scrub away dirty pawprints in an effort to win the hearts of your adoptive family and befriend the toys that come to life each night.  As you proceed through the game, you'll be rewarded with weapons and items which further illustrate your tiny size... baby spoons become shovels, and unused toothbrushes double as floor mops.  Using any of them will drain your already dwindling supply of energy, forcing you to recharge frequently at one of the power outlets scattered throughout each room. 

As you perform your duties as the Sandersons' micro-maid, you'll learn more about the increasingly dysfunctional family and its financial difficulties.  Will the shapely Mrs. Sanderson finally be able to convince her husband to get a job, even if it's as Captain Lou Albano's stunt double?  Will the mystery of little Jenny's unhealthy obsession with frogs ever be revealed?  And are there any toys in the house that aren't completely obnoxious?  Because you can't skip through the lines of dialogue (accompanied by the most irritating gibberish this side of Okami), you'll discover the answers to all these questions whether you're interested or not! 

Next to the drawn-out dialogue, the feeling of helplessness the player must face while playing Chibi-Robo is probably the game's greatest shortcoming.  Your chrome-plated custodian can't jump, and his laser cannon can only vaporize stickers and the occasional mechanical spider.  New locations are dangled just out of your reach, and will remain there until you collect the right items.  While the pint-sized perspective will remind you of Katamari Damacy at first, you'll feel like your progress is a slow, uphill climb because you never get any larger, and your surroundings never become any less intimidating. 

On the plus side, the game's got more purpose than its inspiration Animal Crossing... not to mention better graphics!  There are no flat expanses littered with sprite-based trees and houses... the Sanderson home is far more detailed, with plenty of nooks and crannies to explore.  Rooms have blinds over the windows, desks with pens and paper strewn on top of them, and wastepaper baskets tucked in each corner, making each environment seem more tangible and organic.  On the other hand, the sound is a bit too whimsical for its own good, with different tones punctuating your robot's every step over tiles, wood, cement, and grass. 

Chibi-Robo isn't what you'd call an exhilirating experience, and I sure as hell wouldn't have recommended it for its original retail price.  However, you can rarely go wrong with a fifteen dollar game... and you certainly won't regret this one!

January 2, 2007... Early Rare-tirement

Crap, only thirty minutes 'till the end of my birthday!  Gotta think of something to say, and quick!

All right, how's this?  It appears that Rare's founding members, the brotherly team of Chris and Tim Stamper, are leaving the company for greener (and presumably piņata-free) pastures.  It's a pretty momentous occasion... or it would be, if Rare hadn't lost much of the luster it had during the 1980's.

I'm also hearing rumors of a Radiant Silvergun sequel on the Xbox 360, news that's as good a birthday gift as anything else the video game industry could offer me.  Let's hope that the third installment of the series will be more like the outstanding Saturn game than Ikaruga, the merciless Dreamcast spin-off which greatly limited the number of available weapons along with the player's freedom of movement.